Recent achievements and future perspectives for Aeroporti di Roma

Interview with Ugo De Carolis

Infrastructure Channel asked Aeroporti di Roma CEO Ugo De Carolis to discuss what he finds most interesting about the new international terminal at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport.

Q: If you could say only one thing about the new terminal, what would it be?

CEO: On time. We completed the project on schedule. In Italy that’s somewhat of a revolution. I’d like to emphasize that this underscores how things can change in Italy. Many of the clichés about bureaucracy and delays and so on are archaic, even obsolete. Things on the ground are moving much more quickly than is often portrayed.

Q: Can you elaborate on this message?

CEO: I’d like to stick to what I know best, because that in fact is the attitude that is making things work in Italy. Rome’s Fiumicino airport hasn’t always benefited from great game. And in fact, if you look at investments in the structure and operations over time, you’ll see that the average annual amount from 2003 through 2012 was EUR70 million Since 2013, it’s been almost four times that much, reaching EUR430 million in 2016, the year we completed the new Area E, a phoenix rising from the ashes of the old Terminal 3. Now, obviously things have to be maintained and improved, which entails investing, and that’s what was lacking and what we have changed in recent years. We hope that reflects our credibility and we certainly worked to make sure our credibility was earned. But note – all this worked! We had a framework contract to do this and things changed quite rapidly in fact. Now Fiumicino ranks very highly in several official surveys of airport quality, often at the very top. This new spirit of Italy was captured immediately upon the debut of the new terminal. The first flight to leave was headed for Teheran, where Italian entrepreneurs are keen to do business, and the first to arrive was from London, Europe’s financial capital. We should stop talking in terms of the country’s various legacy woes and focus more on its strong points, since that’s what’s going to carry us forward.

Q: So if you had to describe in simple terms what the recipe for your credibility is, how would you do so

CEO: I don’t want to give away any proprietary trade secrets! Seriously, though, I think it reflects what I’m trying to use as my benchmark criteria in all areas, which is think long term and don’t scrimp on quality. This by the way means knowing what you are trying to achieve. If you wish you could say we are giving more of a voice to our engineering souls and putting our financial dimensions in a subordinate role. I’m quite convinced this is the right approach for long-term infrastructure investments. Big money is involved, and big works are the result; it’s very important that the final product be what you want it to be. Consider that the new terminal used 36,000 tonnes of steel, not to mention the hundreds of kilometers of cable that had to be laid and other building materials and the almost 60,000 square meters of glass installed along the facades. That said, there really never is a final product. What we do is always ongoing, and that’s in the nature of airports. In fact, we barely had time to toast the new terminal area before we had to go back to the rest of our Fiumicino plans, since we’re trying to raise our capacity to 58 million passengers a year in 2021 from 44 million today, and that means we have to overhaul Terminal 2, the facilities for Schengen area travelers.

Q: Are there any unsung details about the latest terminal project that deserve more attention?

CEO: Yes! When I said we’re more engineering-centric, that doesn’t mean that other issues go away, not at all. Local politics, for example, is a huge factor, as is the case for airports everywhere. Stakeholders have different assessments of issues like noise, traffic, pollution, and job creation. This is something we’ve tried to take to heart instead of seeing as a fight. So here’s one of the most important things about the new Area E. It is an expansion – a big one, with 22 more gates and capability of handling an additional 6 million people a year – but we did not use any more land to accomplish that. We built on what exists. It is often rather short-sighted to assume that it would have been cheaper simply to requisition more land. We have opted for what if you wish you could call a more “ecosystem” approach that weighs multiple factors. So not only did we not convert any more land, but we have sharply cut the airport’s overall carbon footprint. And, for example, Fiumicino now has the highest level of differential recycling of waste of any airport in Europe. That is a serious thing when you consider that airports really are substantial cities of their own. KPMG, the global auditing firm, recently calculated that Fiumicino is now – actually the data refer to 2015 so are even better now – uses 3.76 kilowatt-hours per traveler. That’s down a third from 5.57 in 2004. Other European airports, in Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Frankfurt, Munich, Milan and Zurich, are close to 5. These are things you don’t see with the naked eye but they are very big things! And in “ecosystem” terms these are important services with a broad array of beneficiaries. We’re working hard, and so far so good, on applying a similar green approach with key partners such as the state railway Ferrovie dello Stato to optimize traffic flows and accessibility for visitors, workers and neighbors alike, and with Enel and Nissan to increase our already pioneering use of electric vehicles to move people around on the Fiumicino “campus”.